Psalm 61:3

Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer; for You have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Cross and Reward

To have faith in Jesus Christ is to bear a cross.  To believe in Him as the Son of God, to confess Him as Lord, to trust that He alone can save us from the just wrath of God in heaven, is to strap those two splintery, wooden beams to our backs and carry them to the point of death.

                We often miss that when we read passages like Matthew 10, but we need to be reminded of it.  The cross is not merely an instrument of suffering, although that is certainly included.  The cross is an instrument of death.  People die on crosses.  That is their entire purpose.

                So, to have faith in Jesus Christ is to die.  It is to die toward anything that would compete within us for our love, trust, and fear of Him.  And in Matthew 10 Jesus tells us what a few of those things are.

                Faith in Jesus entails that we die to our families.  It means that we place our sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, parents and grandchildren in a subordinate position to Jesus.  Christ is number one.  I might love my family more than I love myself, but I am not permitted to love them more than God, nor God’s Son.

                A professor in college shared the story of her relationship with her orthodox Jewish family after her own conversion from Judaism to Lutheranism.  She left the faith of her ancestors for the conviction that the Old Testament is fulfilled in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

                And her uncle, an orthodox rabbi, wanted her parents to declare her legally dead.  Can you imagine what risk she took, what pain she went through in conversion?  There was the possibility that her family would never, literally never, speak to her again.

                Thankfully her parents did not go through with it.  Rather, they gave her a set of rules.  She may come into their home for visits, but she must never speak of her Christian faith.  She must leave Jesus at the front door.

                So what does she do?  She brings it up anyway.  Her mother cries and her father gets angry, storming out of the room.  But she brings Jesus with her, and shares His Gospel with the family, even though it causes great strife.  She bears her cross.  She dies to family.

                Are we that bold in our own homes?  Do we dare to look an apathetic spouse in the eye and challenge them to attend worship services?  Do we have the guts to call our adult children and remind them that Jesus is calling them to repentance, even though they have rejected the faith?  Will we risk making Thanksgiving dinner a bit awkward this year by bringing up the unmentionables of the one true religion?   

Do we have the faith to believe that even if our families were to get angry, even if they were to reject us as arrogant or judgmental or out of touch, Jesus would be enough, He would provide for all our needs of body and soul?

                Family is a great blessing.  But Jesus comes first.  

                Taking up the cross, following Jesus, means dying to ourselves.  We all have wants, desires, plans, and dreams.  We have hopes and fears, some small and others large.  But these also must submit to Christ.  He must be the driving force behind our agenda, not our own whims.

                The personal decisions that we make regarding what we will do with our time, how we will spend our money, to what sort of education we will subject our children, must first go through the test: what does Jesus call me to be, to do.  

The Christian dies to self.  You may have great dreams, good hopes and desires.  But Jesus comes first.

The Christian dies to sin.  We take up the cross and follow Jesus all the way to Calvary where we sacrifice, not our money or food or animals, but our sinful nature, our evil, our idolatry and self-centeredness.  

Today we come to the cross of Jesus.  Hold nothing back.  Have you died to your family, or do you fear losing them more than losing Jesus?  Have you died to yourself, or are you keep back a few private pleasures that you are just not ready to sacrifice?

It is time.  It is time to lay them all down, to drop them here and let them die, along with the guilt and shame that comes along with displeasing and dishonoring a God who loves you more than anything.

But how dare He?  How dare Jesus demand that we die to our families, our precious loved ones?  What gives Him the right to supplant our hopes and dreams, to tell us that a goal is unworthy?  Who does He think He is saying that all sin must die?  Why can’t I keep just the little ones that don’t hurt anyone else?

It is not as if Jesus ever had to die to His family, die to His dreams, die to sin.  Jesus never had to bear the cross!

Oh yeah, I guess He did.  Jesus bore a cross that you and I cannot possibly imagine.  He did not simply die to His own sin, but bore the sins of the world upon His shoulders.  He died with your sin and mine.

Jesus died to His own hopes and dreams.  We see that most clearly as drops of blood fall to the ground and He prays, “Father, not my will, but Yours be done.”

Jesus died to His family.  He left His mother Mary at the cross in the care of a disciple.  But worse than that, Jesus died forsaken by His Father in Heaven.  He died in a way that you or I will never have to face: alone, without God’s mercy.

Jesus took up this cross so that we would not have to.  He bore this burden in our place.  He died to family, to self, to sin, for you.  

Lay down your sins, die to them.  And take up your reward.

Jesus warns that those carrying and those receiving the Gospel will face hardship.  They will have to sacrifice strong family ties, personal wishes, and favored sins.  They will die to family, self, and sin.

But with the cross also comes the reward.  Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives Him who sent me.  The one who receives a prophet, a righteous person, a little one, will by no means lose his reward.  

The reward of faith, when one has died, is to rise.  With His cross Jesus earns our reward.  With His resurrection He begins to distribute it.  And at Pentecost Jesus launches a worldwide initiative to bring that reward to all people.

The reward that we are given—the reward that is unearned, yet ours by grace—is that all sin and all guilt and all shame has been crucified with Christ.  Jesus has crucified our evil desires.  He has sacrificed our sins.  Jesus was put to death, and He took our death with Him.

The reward of faith, then, is forgiveness for all the things we have put before Christ.  But not merely forgiveness—it is forgiveness toward an end, forgiveness with a purpose.  It brings with it life and salvation.  It brings resurrection from death, a concrete eternity with Jesus and all the others who bore the cross, died to sin, and received their reward. 

The desires and hopes that cannot be fulfilled in this world will be completely surpassed in the world to come.  There you will learn to desire what is good, to desire all that God gives, and you will have it filled up and overflowing.

The family that is united in Christ, though it be through much struggle, is the family that is together forever.  Nothing, not even the grave, can tear them apart when He is their glue.  Peace sacrificed here will result in peace together with Jesus forever and ever.

To be filled with faith by the Holy Spirit is to bear a cross.  It means death to family, death to self, death to sin.  But the reward is far greater.  Like Job before us we shall receive back far more than what has been lost.

The reward of faith, given from God’s hand as a gift, is worth the cross.  Jesus Christ has crucified our sin and evil with Him so that He might reward us beyond anything we could ever hope to attain.  The reward of faith is this: we are forgiven and death is undone.  

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